Cleveland Heights City Council meeting highlights 10-4-21

OCTOBER 4, 2021, regular meeting


  • Public comments
  • Council actions
  • Council discussion of Start Right


Present were Council President Jason Stein, Vice President Kahlil Seren, Craig Cobb, Melody Joy Hart, Davida Russell, and Michael N. Ungar. Also present were Amy Himmelein, clerk of council and finance director; and William Hanna, law director. City Manager Susanna Niermann O’Neil attended the committee of the whole but not the public meeting. The public meeting lasted a little over an hour and commenced after an executive session that adjourned at 9 p.m.

Public comments

A resident complained that, for years, the city has ignored concerns expressed by her and her neighbors in the Noble area. She reiterated that a staff member had dismissed Noble Road as not a productive investment for Community Development Block Grant funds. She also claims that the city has not responded to a complaint filed within the 15 days required by state law. Mr. Hanna said the state code reads “15 days if practicable” and that she would have a response this week. He noted that an employee’s leave of absence had held up the response.

A resident of the Buckingham Condominiums asked council to negotiate with the Top of the Hill developer, Flaherty and Collins (F&C), to relocate the dog park to a location more accessible to area residents. This resident also provided a video showing a possible drainage issue in the new garage and requested a public record of the inspection report. City inspectors approved the garage, but local residents are doubtful about compliance. Several council members expressed sympathy for the concerns and will look into the issue. 

A resident expressed concern for the trees that are growing at the Cedar-Lee-Meadowbrook Project location. He also complained about comments Mr. Ungar had made at a previous council meeting. The resident maintains that council had not met publicly to approve the agreement with the project developer, but Mr. Ungar maintained this was not true.

Another resident encouraged the city to develop a park on the Cedar-Lee-Meadowbrook property. She urged the council to be transparent and closely monitor the work of F&C, noting a previous comment questioning the quality of work at Top of the Hill. This resident had attended public meetings and made comments that were ignored about a park at the Meadowbrook-Lee location. She claims that focus group participants were chosen by Mr. Ungar and no one who favored a park were included. She asked for more transparency on project finances and asked people to sign her petition for building a park.

Council actions

Council amended the current city budget for fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2021. According to Ms. Himmelein, funds needed to be moved to the general fund to cover operational expenses and expenses for the new refuse operations.

Council authorized actions necessary to allocate 100 percent of municipal income tax paid to the city by the employees of Chagrin Valley Dispatch Council. According to Ms. O’Neil, this is not a new agreement, but a name change was needed for the dispatch organization.

Council authorized a development agreement with Start Right Community Development Corporation (CDC) for an infill project in the Caledonia area.

Council discussion of Start Right

Much discussion about the Start Right CDC authorization was carried over from the committee of the whole meeting. During the committee of the whole, Mr. Seren questioned the planning and development director and Pastor Jimmie Hicks about the Start Right CDC memorandum of understanding (MOU). There was some back and forth about the timeliness in delivering the meeting packets. Ms. O’Neil said there were issues in producing the packet this week and apologized for late delivery. Ms. Russell reminded council the MOU had been a work in progress for many months and that the Start Right contract deserved a vote tonight.

Ms. Russell favored approval and reminded council that the two items of concern had been removed from this contract: Start Right will no longer need $250,000 to begin construction and the CDC has obtained a $1 million line of credit. The developer is assuming all the financial risk, aside from paying $100 for each vacant lot. Staff also negotiated to remove mention of Down Payment Assistance; Staff will introduce the program to anyone who purchases a home in an eligible low/moderate Income area in the infill housing project area.

Mr. Ungar voiced support for the MOU and hoped it would be a catalyst for other similar developments in the city. He asked about oversight. The planning and development director said they will watch the progress and would hold the CDC to the project completion timeline.

Ms. Hart thanked Pastor Hicks and his staff for making a difference in the Caledonia area.

Mr. Seren said he had not had time to review the MOU because he only received it Friday evening, but he had questions about Gold LEAD compliance, the Start Right line of credit, the consequences of failure, the building schedule, and the status of the original investors; he received the following responses. The planning and development director said they used the standard Silver LEAD as best practice. Regarding the line of credit, Pastor Hicks said he had given a copy to the city and the planning director said he would provide a copy to council. Regarding failure, he was told the risk was minimal – the lot would go back to the city and financing sources of income would flow to the developer when houses start selling. As soon as the Architectural Board of Review approves new codes, the CDC will apply for building permits and begin construction. Mr. Seren was told that Mr. McGruder, one of the original investors, is no longer a partner with Start Right.

Mr. Seren wanted this legislation to go through the regular order of two readings. Mr. Ungar felt prepared to approve the MOU tonight. Staff had vetted the MOU, and the issues council had wanted removed were removed. 

Mr. Seren commented that issues expressed 20 years ago by Pastor Hicks concerning the LGBTQ community had not been addressed. Ms. Russell gave an impassioned speech asking that no community in Cleveland Heights be discriminated against, including black and LGBTQ residents. She told Mr. Seren that this contract was not about an individual opinion expressed 20 years ago but about developing an area – Caledonia – that has been neglected for years.

Mr. Cobb was also ready to move ahead and approve the MOU.

LWV Observer: Gail Larson.

Meeting packets, legislation, and other information can be found on the city website at: 

Videos of council meetings can be viewed on the “City of Cleveland Heights, OH” YouTube channel:


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Volume 14, Issue 11, Posted 2:53 PM, 10.20.2021